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Germs! Aaarrgggh!

Submitted by on Thursday, 20 January 2011 No Comment

Content warning: Germophobes are strongly advised to don protective gear before reading this post. The rest of us should quickly buy stock in companies that manufacture face masks.

It was supposed to be a science project that would let the guys see the gross nature of what’s in their own bodies: Feet, ears, etc. We never got around to finishing it, though, so it instead morphed into an examination of the air in our house.

And what an examination it turned out to be. The guys didn’t even need the small magnifying glass that came with the science kit to see the results: Dots of fuzzy green and gray, with the occasional black scum pond.

“You mean … you mean … we breathe that stuff?” Big Guy sputtered. “Ewwwwwwww!”

Yes, you do. Every day of your life. Yet, you don’t walk around sick all the time, do you?

OK, so maybe that’s a bad example for Big Guy, who’s already missed 10 days of school this year due to various allergy and asthma-induced ailments.  His brother, on the other hand, seldom catches anything. So much for the hygiene hypothesis.

For the rest of us, though, it’s a great reminder of “you can run but you can’t hide.” You might as well use the ATM without gloves and flush the toilet with the lid open. Take a real walk on the wild side and open the door to a public restroom. It doesn’t matter. Short of encasing yourself in a plastic bubble, germs are going to get  you somehow, someway.

Are there any companies that manufacture human-size plastic bubbles? Maybe that’s where I should invest.

The problem is, in part due to aggressive marketing efforts of “anti-bacterial soap,” we’ve started to equate “bacteria” with “germs.” They’re not the same. While by definition germs are bacteria, all bacteria are not germs. There’s just no need to run around like Charlie Brown’s Lucy, who freaked out when Snoopy smooched her. ““Blecchh. Ewww. I’ve been touched by dog lips! Get me some disinfectant”

That one’s not true either. We’re more likely to make our dogs sick than the other way around.

The germs/bacteria misdirect in the case of our experiment started with the science kit, which was one of Big Guy’s Christmas presents. “Grow your own germs!” the box said.

“It actually grows bacteria,” I told the guys. “Not all bacteria are bad. Without bacteria, your stomach could never digest your food. We’d never have yogurt or sour cream or cheese either, because we need bacteria to make it.”

When we get finished with the experiment, I added, you’ll see a lot of bacteria from your body. It’s there, and it’s harmless.

The experiment is easy enough to do, by the way, even without the kit. All you need is water, unflavored gelatin and some sort of container. You can take “samples” from anywhere – hands, feet, dirt, kitchen counters. Even the air, as we found out after the lids came off our dishes before we had a chance to do what we’d planned.

There’s just enough Lucy in me that I did clean the dishes with anti-bacterial soap and rubbing alcohol. Not enough, though, that I rushed out to buy respirators. We all have our lines in the sand. I know a person, for example, who’s so freaked out at the idea of germs that the smell of Chlorox assails you the second you enter the house. That did not stop the individual, though, from clamoring as I cleaned the cabinets of contaminated macaroni once after a bug outbreak.

“You’re going to throw that away? No! Give it to me!”

That was years ago, and I’ve never eaten pasta at that person’s house since.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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